SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) – Affordable and quality child care is out of reach for some across the Ozarks, and that gap is expanding.
With long waitlists and soaring prices, it is difficult for parents to find it, and they are running out of options, especially if they want to work.
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Courtney Tay is going to be a first-time mom to a baby girl. She’s early in her pregnancy but has already started getting her unborn baby on waiting lists for child care services.
“For me, I love my job, and I love to work,” Tay says. “But it’s going to come at a cost. It’ll either be a very big lifestyle change or accepting help from family members.”
She’s not having much luck finding a place with openings
“I feel so silly going into day cares and touring them when I’m not even looking pregnant myself,” Tay says. “I am already behind, and [my baby] doesn’t have a spot until she’s 7, 8, or 9 months old.”
“I have not called a place so far that has had availability for when she was a newborn,” she adds.
It’s a big problem but not unusual here in the Ozarks.
“I will tell you, in these last two years and especially this year, we have never had such a waitlist,” Rhonda Anderson from Park Crest Daycare and Preschool says.
The center averages 12 calls a day, with people hoping they have a spot. She says all her classes have a waitlist, but the infant and toddler waitlists are the longest.
“Parents call crying because they can’t get infant care,” Anderson adds.
Tay was set on going with a licensed child care facility, like Parkcrest. But now, she says she is open to the idea of a licensed at-home spot.
It might be a good option. Licensed at-home centers have passed health and safety inspections. Those who run and work at them, much like the licensed facilities, have had special training.
But those spots can be just as hard to find for the youngest students, much like at facilities.
“It’s hard to get licensed for babies or under the age of two children,” Jennifer Davis, who runs Little Steps Big Dreams Daycare and Learning Center LLC out of her home, says.
She says being licensed isn’t easy either, and it’s why many at-home child care providers don’t do it. It’s a long, expensive process and made more difficult for the age children parents are most desperate to get in.
If you get a spot at one of these facilities, the next question is, can you afford it? These facilities often will include a curriculum. And come with a higher price tag.
“It is pretty overwhelming that the cost for daycare will be about 40% of my annual salary,” Tay says. “So I’ll be spending more than on my mortgage and car payment combined.”
There are other options, too, including at-home unlicensed care. These are only supposed to have spots for three children under the age of two in the state of Missouri. Some may not have had training in health and safety standards or other important training and licensing.
It’s overwhelming, and finding the best option for you can feel daunting. But some places help.
Parents as Teachers is a program that offers Springfield parents help, even brand new parents.
Volunteers do home visits to help parents know they have someone on their team.
“I feel like my job is just to help parents realize that we’re all having to make some choices that we never thought we would have to make and just helping them feel secure in how they navigate having to make those choices for their kids,” says Rachel Christensen a Parents as Teachers parent educator.
That volunteer can also be another resource for parents with an ear open for openings.
Missouri also has a child care database, but Dana Carroll, the Vice President at Community Partnership of the Ozarks, says that it’s not complete.
And while experts agree it has its setbacks, it might be a good place to start.
“To me, the best way to find quality childcare is to either ask a friend who’s already in that program,” Carroll says.
And while the waiting lists are long, don’t let that discourage you from getting your name on them. Get your name on them early.
“Still put your name on there because things always happen,” Carroll says. “People expand, and they are able to get more slots.”
Missouri is working on creating a quality rating system. Much like how you can check out restaurant ratings, the plan is to have something similar for child care facilities.
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